11, Aug, 23

Turn Two MTG Death Combo Threatens to Ruin Cheap Format!

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Article at a Glance

While Commander Masters was designed to bring a ton of reprints and some cool new Commander cards to a Limited environment, the set also featured a ton of rarity shifts among reprints. Some cards like Smothering Tithe went up in rarity, but most cards went down.

Notably, a ton of cards have gotten their first common appearance, which makes them legal in Pauper. Its been barely a week into these downshifts being legal on Magic Online, and we are already seeing a ton of decks utilizing new additions to the format. While some cards are slotting nicely into existing archetypes, like All that Glitters and Cryptic Serpent, there’s a new deck on the rise thanks to the downshift of two key cards: Lotleth Giant and Dread Return.

Dread Return is an extremely powerful card. The card is banned in Modern and is utilized in Legacy decks like Oops All Spells to bring back Thassa’s Oracle after milling your whole deck with Balustrade Spy or Undercity Informer. Of course, in a format with elite graveyard hate and Force of Will, it makes sense why Oops All Spells isn’t overly dominant.

Pauper, on the other hand, is a different story. This new deck in Pauper also utilizes Balustrade Spy and is quite capable of winning extremely quickly. Without the likes of Informer, Oracle, modal double-faced cards to act as “Lands”, or Narcomoeba, the Pauper variant does require some extra work. Still, it is extremely strong, blazingly fast, and the list is still being improved!

Core Strategy

The goal of the Pauper deck is actually quite similar to that of Oops All Spells in Legacy. If you resolve a Balustrade Spy with no Lands in your deck, you can mill your entire library. In Legacy, this would cause multiple Narcomoeba triggers, and you can use Dread Return to sacrifice those Narcomoebas, bring back Oracle, and win. In Pauper, once you have milled over your deck, you utilize the Unearth ability of multiple copies of Dregscape Zombie to get three Creatures on the battlefield, use Dread Return’s Flashback ability to bring back Lotleth Giant, and have Lotleth Giant dome your opponent for a boatload of damage.

This deck is very scary. It can win turn two relatively often. Just like the Legacy version, it does require having access to a way to mill your library. In this case, the deck utilizes Destroy the Evidence in addition to Balustrade Spy, providing you with eight primary win conditions. Eight isn’t a ton, so it’s important to mulligan somewhat aggressively with this style of deck. Without having to worry about cards like Force of Will and Daze, the Pauper variant, while playing weaker cards overall, has way less hate cards to worry about. As we will see later, this deck has come prepared with ways to beat specific hate as well.

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Enabling Your Win Conditions

Land Grant

Without access to the modal double-faced cards to play as “Lands”, this Pauper deck requires some improvisation to obtain the necessary mana to cast Balustrade Spy or Destroy the Evidence. Destroy the Evidence also requires a Land under your control to be able to target. As a result, this deck does play at least one Land. Bryant Cook’s List in particular plays one copy of Woodland Chasm. Importantly though, this deck also needs ways to find this Land in order to guarantee a victory with Balustrade Spy or Destroy the Evidence. One unique way of doing so is by playing Land Grant. Given that your deck only has one Land in it, you either have it in your hand already and are good to go, or you simply cast Land Grant for free revealing your hand with no Lands in it, find the Land, and play it.

In addition to Land Grant, this deck also makes use of both Troll of Khazad-dum and Generous Ent as ways to search for Woodland Chasm. Remember, with Lotleth Giant as your actual win condition alongside Dread Return, the Creature count of this deck has to be high enough to close the game, so these Landcyclers fill both roles nicely.

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More Mana Generation

Songs of the Damned

Without access to Lands, though, this deck needs to play a lot of other ways to generate mana in the first place. Both Simian Spirit Guide and Lotus Petal provide free sources of mana that can be used for your Landcycling Creatures if necessary. Beyond free sources of mana, this deck also uses Wild Cantor, Tinder Wall, Dark Ritual, Rite of Flame, and Cabal Ritual as extra mana sources that help propel you closer towards casting Spy or Destroy the Evidence.

Wild Cantor, Tinder Wall, Street Wraith, and the Landcyclers also help enable Songs of the Damned, which can generate lots of mana at once. Cards like Songs of the Damned and Cabal Ritual that generate lots of black mana also help make sure you can Unearth your Dregscape Zombies after resolving Spy or Destroy the Evidence, enabling Dread Return. Every card in this deck either acts as part of your win condition or helps with mana production to enable your ability to win, so the deck is extremely streamlined. While the deck is fast, this does mean it attacks on one axis, which presents some weaknesses.

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Weaknesses and Playing Around Hate

Ingot Chewer

One of the most obvious ways to hate on the deck is to run lots of graveyard hate, like Relic of Progenitus. Relic can exile your whole graveyard after you’ve milled your library, making it impossible to win with Lotleth Giant. Unsurprisingly, though, there’s a couple decent ways to play around this. First and foremost, Bryant’s list plays four copies of Ingot Chewer as ways to remove opposing graveyard hate.

In addition to Ingot Chewer, one really cool way of beating Relic is by using Haunting Misery. Haunting Misery lets you exile any number of Creatures from your graveyard and dome your opponent for that much damage. Normally with Dread Return and Lotleth Giant, once you mill your library, you will have to cast Dread Return, targeting Lotleth Giant. If your opponent has Relic in play, they can respond, exile your graveyard, and blow the whole plan up.

With Haunting Memory and Spy or Destroy the Evidence, however, you can mill your library, then cast Haunting Memory maintaining priority, giving your opponent no window to respond with a Relic activation. Importantly, Haunting Misery doesn’t have Flashback, so you do have to draw it naturally to win, unlike with Dread Return and Lotleth Giant.

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Beyond Graveyard Hate


In addition to graveyard hate, this deck is also vulnerable to Counterspells. Countering a Spy or Destroy the Evidence can be backbreaking, especially considering how many resources were used to generate the necessary mana to cast them. To play around Counterspells, this deck has a playset of Pyroblast ready to go out of the sideboard, alongside a copy of Highland Forest, which is a Land to search up with Land Grant or Generous Ent that helps cast Pyroblast.

Even with its weaknesses, this deck is so fast and harder to hate out than it might seem. It will be interesting to see how this deck evolves, and if it will indeed end up being too strong for the Pauper format. Will players be able to adapt, or will there be another ban announcement in short order?

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